1814 flag honors the city's unique history

SATURDAY MAILBOX

Saturday Mailbox

September 04, 2004

Three hearty cheers and more for Mayor Martin O'Malley. Flying 1814-style replica flags over city buildings is most appropriate and has great promotional value as well ("Repeating history," editorial, Aug. 27).

For many years, Baltimore has been known as the birthplace of our national anthem. The stirring story of the huge flag at Fort McHenry and Francis Scott Key's poem is a familiar one to almost every American.

But for whatever reason, some city promoters have chosen to drop Baltimore's traditional sobriquet, "The Star-Spangled Banner City," for the rather trite "Charm City," which is meaningless to most people, even though heritage tourism has long been a major force in the visitor and convention business.

The city has much to gain if replica flags are also flown at major-league sports events and a variety of other places and occasions.

Gil Crandall

Annapolis

The writer was director of the division of tourism of the Maryland Department of Economic Development from 1961 to 1973.

As Defender's Day and the 190th anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore approach, I can't help but wonder at the editorial position of The Sun toward Mayor Martin O'Malley's executive order that 50-star flags at municipal buildings and other sites be replaced by replicas of the flag that flew over Fort McHenry in September of 1814. And it's not the content but also the tone of the editorial to which I object - with its references to "the allegedly puckish reputation of Charm City" and to equally "puckish rejoinders" ("Repeating history," editorial, Aug. 27).

The mayor's order is not a joke, nor does it conceal some hidden agenda. Rather, it is an acknowledgement of Baltimore's unique place in American history as the birthplace of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Only the 15-star, 15-stripe flag represents that history. Only in Baltimore Harbor, after he witnessed the 25-hour bombardment of Fort McHenry, did Francis Scott Key write the poem in four verses that, by order of President Herbert Hoover in 1931, became our national anthem.

As The Sun's editorial stated, Baltimore is, indeed, "a living city." And in it lives the spirit of thousands of citizen soldiers and civilians, black and white, immigrant and native-born, who stood fast against the mightiest army and navy in the world and, in the words of Mr. Key's remarkable poem, "preserved thus a nation."

No, Baltimore "isn't the next Colonial Williamsburg - nor does it aspire to be." It's much bigger and more important than that.

For it was here that we truly became "the land of the free, and the home of the brave."

Alan Walden

Baltimore

The writer is chairman of the Patriots of Fort McHenry and a WBAL radio commentator.

The mayor is right. The 15-star flag reminds all Americans that we are the birthplace of our national anthem, a song that says in its final two lines more about the American character than any public policy. And yet few Americans are aware of the incredible events surrounding its writing.

Imagine how exciting, entertaining and educational a nightly re-creation of Fort McHenry's bombardment with sound (the bombs bursting in air), lights (the dawn's early light) and fireworks (the rocket's red glare) would be to the throngs of tourists such a program would bring to our city.

Couple this with vacation packages promoted by the travel industry and you have the basis for what could prove to be the biggest draw for family vacations outside of Disney World.

Consider how many families stand outside the Treasure Island hotel in Las Vegas every night to witness a fictional pirate fight. Baltimore has more to offer.

Our proximity to Atlantic beaches, the nation's capital, user-friendly mountains, the Chesapeake Bay and scores of in-town attractions (including the original, hand-written-on-the-back-of an-envelope poem that became our national anthem) make this a very pleasant vacation destination.

All we need is the hook. And Francis Scott Key gave us that hook.

At a time when our country's ideals are getting bashed both at home and abroad, it's good to remind ourselves what we really stand for. "The Star-Spangled Banner" does that.

I applaud the mayor's initiative. Now, Baltimore, let's tell America what we have to offer.

Richard A. Berman

Baltimore

The writer is president of the Reisterstown Road Merchants Coalition.

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